Did you surprise yourself?

Suzuki violin

“Did you surprise yourself?”

My colleague Brecklyn Smith Ferrin, a Suzuki violin teacher and SECE teacher in Utah as well as a Suzuki mom, recently posted about her almost 5 year-old son who was at the beginning of his Suzuki violin journey with his teacher. He was frustrated and exclaimed words we all have heard, “I can’t do it.  I don’t know how.”

His teacher gently encouraged him, giving him her full confidence that he could.  When he successfully completed the task, holding the violin under his chin with his head—no hands—he was elated! “It was magic,” his mom says watching the delight on her young son’s face.  What did he learn that day?  He learned he could!  He learned that if he puts his mind to it and tries, he can accomplish things that are hard, things he doesn’t think he knows how to do.  In the safety of his Suzuki violin lessons, he is building resilience.  With the safety and skill of his violin teacher, he will build his character and even a beautiful heart.

Such are Suzuki violin lessons!  Develop a fine musician and, if given a chance, fine character.

Building fine Suzuki violinists

Dr. Shinichi Suzuki is the creator of the method that allows even very young children to play the violin very well.

The Suzuki Method relies on exposing children to good music from an early age. Children develop advanced listening skills as well as a memory for pieces they will play. He believed they would then be able to “translate that listening ‘environment’  to a beautiful sound on an instrument.”

His revolutionary method took violin teachers in the US by surprise and delight. Violin pedagogue John Kendall arranged for Suzuki to come to the US in 1964 with 10 Japanese children, ages five to 13, for a concert tour.  The tour included New York and 18 other cities, dazzling parents, educators and members of the news media.  Seeing and hearing the young children play helped the method gain a permanent foothold in the US.

Nothing is hit or miss.

Violin teacher, Louise Wear switched from traditional teaching methods to Suzuki in 1966, shortly after Dr. Suzuki’s tour. She taught her daughter, Linda Fiore who later studied in Japan with Dr. Suzuki for 18 months and became an accomplished violinist and Suzuki teacher.  Louise Wear who began training teachers in the Suzuki Method, says ”The main points of the Suzuki method are start early, parent involvement, lots of listening, lots of repetition, and take one step at a timeNothing is hit or miss.

By 1983, Mrs. Evelyn Rubenstein, piano teacher and on the faculty of the U. of St. Louis said  “I am impressed with the [Suzuki] method because I have seen the results.”  Very young children (and older ones too) performed very well.  If playing well means having good tone, then listening is the method.  When a child listens  frequently to the piece s/he will eventually play, by the time the child is ready to play the piece, s/he can sing it in her head and hear and even correct her own mistakes.

While listening to the same pieces repeatedly might seem tedious, Wear says that she doesn’t mind listening over and over to ”Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star” (the first Suzuki piece). ”I’m not listening to the piece of music – I am listening to the child’s development,” she says.

Rubenstein said Suzuki students “learn to play the violin correctlyTheir ear is attuned. They can accomplish more because they don’t have to spend time at the beginning learning to sight-read.  They can play beautiful things.”  The Suzuki Method is excellent for young children.  Suzuki-trained musicians who start at a young age seem better equipped and more successful at performing.  Their ear-to-hand coordination is developed very well. “They have a sense of pitch and tone that some students using other methods never attain.”

Every child has 2 types of Suzuki lessons

A private Suzuki violin lesson is structured with the teacher, child and parent (sometimes with a baby in tow). The parent watches carefully and take notes for what and how to practice at home.  Without notes, parents may not remember the finer details for the week.  And the real learning takes place during the practice.

Group class is another reason for success with the Suzuki Method.  It’s a lot more fun to play together in groups than to practice alone.  We hold weekly group classes in our studio, which our students look forward to.

They know they can!

The past president of the Suzuki Association of the Americas, Doris Preucil says the proof is in the pudding. ”Of the next generation of young musicians, many have come from Suzuki programs. You see the quality of the playing, and this cannot be denied. And you see the happiness of the children in what they are doing.” They know they can!  Brecklyn’s son’s delight in himself is proof of this.



“They use me only for switching trains in the yard. I have never been over the mountain…I think I can.” The Little Blue Engine

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Who was John Kendall?

What has greater impact, music lessons, dancing, or sports?

Violins & Video Games

A little levity for April 1st!

Yes, there are violins in an orchestra and, well, they can be found playing video game music! Certainly, video games have sound tracks.  And there really was a Video Game Music Concert!

The Tapiola Sinfonietta Orchestra played at the Slush technology conference in Helsinki, Finland, in 2015.  The concert included nine famous themes from popular video games such as Angry Birds, Clash of Clans, Super Stardust, and Boom Beach.

To be enticing, video games must have good music.  Often the music makes the game more exciting, helping the players to get emotionally invested. Some of the tunes even become part of the popular culture.

Yle, the Finnish public broadcaster, posted a series of videos from the conference.

Click here to go to their webpage where you can choose from 21 selections. I liked– Slush: Angry Birds Medley.  You might prefer Apocalyptica Cello’s version of Angry Birds.

Move over Star Wars soundtrack!

Angry Birds!


Tapiola Sinfonietta

“Creativity is intelligence having fun.” Albert Einstein


Click here for Featured Image source

String players–unique brains!

Davenport Suzuki string player

Why are string players often subjects of brain research?


String players show evidence of more brain plasticity.

Brain plasticity refers to the brain’s ability to change.  It describes a process of development in the brain that happens during our lives, beginning before birth. It used to be thought that brain plasticity only occurred at certain times, but now they think it might occur throughout our lives.

What brain plasticity means for us:

1. New connections in the brain may form to take the place of injured tissues or injured connections.

2. New growth in the brain may occur.

3. Areas in the brain in charge of certain activities may shift when new skills are learned.

One Study:

Click here for the study reported in String Visions, a study done on a small group of young students who played the violin, cello, or guitar compared to those without musical training.

Results of Study, interesting to us and useful for researchers:

1. The brains of the string players were larger (that’s a good thing). One part of the brain takes over adjacent areas like weeds on a lawn.

2. Parts of the brain which are sensitive to left hand finger motions were quicker to respond. (String players use their left hands differently than their right hands.)

3.  There was a shift in the location in the brain where the left hand is controlled. It is apparent in the study that the earlier the child started string lessons, the greater the shift.  (Researchers would want to use this information to prove that a different part of the brain might take over when there is an injury.)

The Mental Processing Speed of players

Researchers also reported that string players and other musically trained children have faster mental processing speeds on some tasks, as measured by IQ and musical ability tests. The results don’t show a cause and effect relationship between music training and higher IQ. But the results do show that music lessons have an influence on mental speed and general intelligence.

The Conclusion?

Unlike the latest activity touted for our young, violin lessons are now and always will be good for their brain.

“Anatomists would be hard put to identify the brain of a visual artist, a writer, or a mathematician – but they could recognize the brain of a professional musician without a moment’s hesitation.” Dr. Oliver Sachs


How is planting a carrot seed like learning to play the violin?

The Carrot Seed

How do we teach young children that learning to play the violin takes time and effort?  We don’t want them to get discouraged.  And the life lesson found in learning to play a violin is priceless.

Read this book to your child about this topic or  watch the video below, or both. The Carrot Seed, a wonderful story about planting a carrot seed, watering it, weeding it, and waiting…waiting…waiting.., teaches young children the lesson of doing something to make success happen.  Look at all the discouragement the child in the book ignores!

What a great way to show young children that learning to play the violin takes time, patience, and determination. What a great way to show young children that those who tell you “it won’t work” might not be right.  If you water and weed [or practice] you will experience success.  “And then one day, a carrot came up!”

But the lesson is bigger than learning to play a very difficult musical instrument!  It’s a lesson about determination, perseverance,  patience, and delayed gratification.  I haven’t met parents yet who don’t want all those characteristics for their son or daughter.

This is a video of the book, The Carrot Seed, by Ruth Kraus & illustrated by Crockett Johnson.


“Talent is no accident of birth.” Shinichi Suzuki


Featured image credit: Pink House Studio

If you stick with the violin, where will it take you?

Violin! To the Super Bowl?

Dr. Seuss tells you where your violin will take you:  “Fame you’ll be famous, as famous as can be, with everyone watching you win on TV….”  You just never know where your violin will take you.  Stick with it for the long haul.  There are so many advantages to the discipline of studying the violin, not the least of which are the opportunities that lie ahead.

Click here to read The Washington Post article on the Super Bowl 50 halftime appearance of members of the Youth Orchestra of Los Angeles.  We are always advocating for support for classical music, and the 2016 Super Bowl was the opportunity to showcase talented young people playing violins–on stage–with Chris Martin of the rock band, Coldplay.

“For anyone eager to see classical music take its place on the same playing field as other art forms in our society, it was a signal, and delightful, satisfaction,” says Anne Midgette of The Washington Post.

The video gives a glimpse behind the scenes with the Youth Orchestra of Los Angeles as they rehearse for the Super Bowl.  Can you feel the excitement in these young people?  They will never forget Super Bowl 50!


“Things may happen and often do to people as brainy and footsy as you.”  Dr. Seuss


Take care of your violin this winter!

Tomorrow is Groundhog Day!

Don’t be fooled by warm weather in January. Will Punxsutawney Phil predict 6 more weeks of winter! ? That’s a lot more cold weather for your violin to deal with.

During the winter, the violin has two enemies:  cold and low humidity.  The hair on the bow shortens, and tops shrink across the width of the violin more than the backs shrink.  Sounds like trouble.  To keep your instrument safe from the ravages of the cold weather,  you should remember a few basics about where you store your violin at any time.

Your violin should be kept where temperatures do not drop below 60 degrees Fahrenheit and humidity is in the range of 35-50 percent.  Easier said than done in the winter weather of Northern Virginia.  Moving from the warm house to the cold car is not good for a violin.  You might possibly notice that the pegs do not fit properly, or you might even see cracks in the wood.

Yet, you may have to get to lessons, rehearsals, play-ins, and recitals. Life must go on for a violin, so here are some suggestions for keeping it safe for the winter months from Erin Shrader at Allthingsstrings.com.

~a digital hygrometer– a must to monitor the humidity of the room the violin is in.

~a humidifier for the room in which your violin lives.

~store the violin in the case with the top closed to protect it from changes in temperature and humidity.

~a case humidifier can be useful if you remember to keep it filled.

~store the violin in a silk or tightly woven cotton sack

~before you play the violin, let it acclimate to the room.

Another good site to check out for violin care, winter and summer, is Potter Violin Company in Bethesda.

From Ashburn to Great Falls, winter weather may be wrecking havoc on your violin for 6 more weeks!

“O wind, if winter comes, can spring be far behind?”  Percy Bysshe Shelley

5 Year-old excited to set & reach a goal!

Freya 100.2

Let’s hear it for a 5 year-old setting her own goal!

In order to record the 100th time she played Twinkle at practice, one of my 5 year-old students decided to challenge herself and experience what it feels like to do something every day until you have done it 100 times!

It is truly a celebration of doing something every single day until she was able to count the 100th time. She asked her mother to record her playing Twinkle to document that day!

What did she learn?

Long term perseverance!


Delayed gratification!

Satisfaction at achieving a goal!

And she is …5!

Celebrate along with her as you watch the video.  Watch her intense concentration.  You can see by her smile at the end, and her deep bow, that she met her own goal. So proud of her!

Congratulations young lady!

“Knowledge is not skill.  Knowledge plus ten thousand times is skill.”  Shinichi Suzuki

Practice the violin: rewire your brain!

A gift of violin for your child for the new year!

The gift that violin lessons can offer!  Although we know that music lessons are good for our children, there is proof that lessons are more than good.  Real positive changes take place in the brain of children who take music lessons.

An October 2015 article in Limelight Magazine, reports the results of a study that took place in Finland which says that music can rewire the circuitry of our brain if we practice regularly.

They discovered that practicing actually changes your brain!  Why should you care about the results of this study? It shows that music lessons and practice strengthen your child’s brain, taking advantage of all that the brain can be.

Why they chose this study:

But we should ask also, “Why did the researchers want to do this study?”  The goal of researchers was to find out if the brain can reorganize itself, for example, after an accident with a central nervous system injury.  In that type of injury, the brain is affected so that the individual’s life may be drastically altered.
The researchers were hoping to show that there may be an ability in the brain to reconfigure itself to create alternate pathways.  If this were so, there would be more possibilities for recovery for central nervous system injury patients.  Since musicians’ brains are different, they wanted to use musicians in their study.

Clever Suzuki Violinist

How they did the study:

The question was:  Can training on a musical instrument improve the communication between the two hemispheres of the brain?

~The researchers investigated the effect that listening to music had on 2 parts of the brain.

1. the corpus callosum – a broad band of nerve fibers joining the two hemispheres of the brain.

2.  the two hemispheres – the right and left parts of the brain

~They tested 2 groups by having them listen to music.

1. professional musicians (who would have practiced a lot)

2. people  who had never played music professionally (who would have practiced much less)


People in the study who were musicians had much more robust development in the corpus callosum and in the two hemispheres.

There was more equal activity in the left and right hemispheres of the professional musicians as they listened to the music.

Even when music lessons were limited to fifteen months in childhood, there was an increase in grey matter in the brain for areas involved in motor, auditory, and visuo–spatial processing.

The front of the corpus callosum, which mainly connects motor areas, is larger in individuals who started playing a musical instrument earlier in life.

Music training leads to sensory and motor changes in the brain.  Motor nerves transmit impulses from the brain and spinal cord to the muscles.  The study shows that since the brain is capable of changing, people with central nervous system injuries may recover some abilities.

I find it fascinating that so many studies of the brain focus on musicians.  There is a tremendous impact on the growth and development of the brain when your child takes music lessons.  In an upcoming blog, I will report on studies of the brain of violin players.

“You have brains in your head and feet in your shoes.  You can steer yourself in any direction you choose.” Dr. Seuss, Oh, the Places You’ll Go!

How does the violin teach children about emotions?

Young children sometimes have difficulty understanding others’ emotions as well as their own.

In the video from Sesame Street, Nadja Salerno-Sonnenberg uses her violin to show Big Bird and his friend, Miles, what emotions sound like.  Watching the video is a good way to discuss emotions with your young child.

Parents can also use this video to show older children how to play their violin with expression.  Since the emotions are clear in the video and Salerno-Sonnenberg’s playing emphasizes them, this would be an opportunity to help students understand expression.

“Everyone can improve. With this belief I have advanced my ability one step forward.” Shinichi Suzuki

Activities for boys ~

They’re not just for boys.. the girls would like these too!

During any vacation, children enjoy their time away from school, but home routines remain important.  Always practice the violin every day.  And vacation gives you more opportunity to practice even more often.  One example for a young child:  10 minutes in the morning, 10 in the afternoon, and 10 in the evening.  Be creative about when and where during the holiday break.

Vacation is also a great time “to waste time with your children.” A great time to enjoy  your children.  But you know eventually, they are going to tell you they are bored!

Renee of Great Peace Academy has a wonderful resource index for activities for boys!

Here are a few hands-on activities I selected from her page:

Who doesn’t have duct tape!  Make a light saber (how appropriate for the new Star Wars movie) or a make more challenging wallet (age 8+ with help).

What child wouldn’t like to watch dissolving rocks only to find a little surprise inside.

Or build a boat from a large cardboard box?  And then practice your violin while standing in your boat!


“The ‘Law of Ability’ will develop each and every child.” Shinichi Suzuki

Calming down Suzuki Pretwinklers this week!

Keep your household schedule during the holidays.

One good way to keep a Suzuki child, or any overstimulated child, calmed down is having a regular schedule in your household during vacation.  Even without school, children can have a good routine to follow every day–something that they can count on and look forward to.

Suzuki Kid!

For example, in planning for play, chores, outside adventures, and travel, set up a simple calendar on the refrigerator that shows what you will do each day.

When they begin to say,”I’m bored,” you can look at the calendar together and see what activity you will do soon that day and help them think about what to do until then.

AND include practice time on that calendar!

Practice can be so much fun, so include it on their daily schedule.  As a matter of fact, there is even more time to practice over the vacation.  Here is a place to be creative.

1. Practice in the kitchen.

2. Practice in the garage.

3.  Practice at grandparents’ house.

4.  Practice as “entertaining” family before lunch or dinner.

5.  Practice in the bathroom.

6.  Practice behind the living room chair.

7.  Practice in pajamas.

8.  Practice in the morning.

9.  Practice for a neighbor.

10.  Practice for a younger or older sibling.

And for another idea to CALM down those excited children….

Katie at Preschoolinspirations.com suggests a Calm Down Jar or as she calls them, Sparkle Bottles.

“She says they provide healthy and effective ways for little ones to help soothe themselves, calm down, take deep breaths, and work through their emotions. I also use them as an addition in our play kitchen or in our quiet area or library area. Overall, they are just beautiful.”

She likes to use a plastic Smart Water bottle (although her affiliate link is for a Voss bottle).  The biggest issues are having a big enough opening to pour in the ingredients and deciding if you want to use glass or plastic.  I would opt for plastic. And maybe tape the lid shut for those especially precocious children–good at twisting off lids.

See the other links on Katie’s page for Lego Jars, Bedtime Glow Bottle, Alphabet Discovery Bottle and more.

“Truly wonderful the mind of a child is.” Yoda


Zin! Zin! Zin! A Violin.

This is such a great book for the young crowd!  Teach them about the instruments of the orchestra with language that is rich in sound.

Zin! Zin! Zin! A Violin. Young pretwinkle Suzuki students would enjoy this book.

With a mournful moan and silken tone,
itself alone comes ONE TROMBONE…

“Then a trumpet joins in to become a duet; add a French horn and voila! you have a trio — and on it goes until an entire orchestra is assembled on stage. Lloyd Moss’s irresistible rhymes and Marjorie Pricemans’s energetic illustrations make beautiful music together — a masterpiece that is the perfect introduction to musical instruments and musical groups, and a counting book that redefines the genre.”

“Music is a moral law…It gives wings to the mind….”  Plato

Never do this to your violin!

Oops!  Remember the time I almost sat on your violin?

This is a great video to share with the children!

Potter Violin Company has an amusing short video to show your children things NEVER to do with or to their violin.  These are good reminders for all of us as we live our busy lives.

We account for all the children before we put the car in reverse.  But, have you ever backed over someone’s bike left in the driveway?  Or tripped on a toy left in a place you weren’t expecting? Or vacuumed up some small plastic creatures?

Learning how to care for the violin and the bow is an opportunity for children to grow.  It seems so simple a task to care for important items.  But it doesn’t come naturally. Children learn respect by caring for things that matter.  Remind them we don’t treat the violin as a toy.

“Art exists for the human species.”  Shinichi Suzuki